- Editor's Notes
A Poet of Many Dimensions
The artwork on the cover of this issue is, it seems to me, deeply mysterious and puzzling. If you devote the time to sit and stare, just as you might with a poem that resists easy comprehension or digestion, you may find it both beautiful and disturbing, even unnerving. I believe that's true even with this reproduction, though you'll probably find the piece more moving in person as it continues to travel from exhibit to exhibit around the world.
The painting, a mixture of oil stick and gesso, was created by Glenn Ligon, and it bears the title Canary (for Rita Dove) in tribute to her great poem of that title, which we also reprint here. Ligon is well known for his paintings in black type on white ground, sometimes smudged nearly to the point of illegibility, as in Canary. Filled with sociopolitical overtones, these works focus on the distorted or fragmented sense of identity sometimes associated with black experience in American culture.
The image bears a repeating line of text: "If you can't be free, be a mystery," the last line of Rita Dove's "Canary." Inspired by a Billie Holiday performance, the poem evokes dichotomies of dark and light and Holiday's reported drug use. It suggests that, "forced into the stereotype of a damsel in distress, a woman may cultivate mystery in response to a lack of freedom" (Caleb Bissinger, Gund Gallery).
The distinction of painting and poem would be reason enough to feature the potent image on our cover. But it also gives me the opportunity to announce that Rita Dove will be the recipient of the 2018 Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement. Born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952, Dove is also the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and she was named the Poet Laureate of the United States in 1993, the first African American to hold that role. [End Page 1]
Receiving the KR award involves a greater engagement with our literary community and our students than simply being honored at the Rainbow Room in New York on November 7. Professor Dove will join us in Gambier for the KR Literary Festival, meeting with students, attending readings and workshops, and presenting the annual Denham Sutcliffe Memorial Lecture as the closing event of the festivities.
Perhaps more important still—and I am truly exhilarated in anticipation—she will be joining the noted Australian poet and KR's international editor, John Kinsella, as guest editors of a special issue scheduled for Nov/Dec 2019 on literary activism. (Submissions for this issue are open, as with all others, from September 15–November 1, 2018.) This promises to be a singular opportunity to explore both the potential and the limits of art in transforming society to embody greater justice and equality.
for Michael S. Harper
Billie Holiday's burned voicehad as many shadows as lights,a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.
(Now you're cooking, drummer to bass,magic spoon, magic needle.Take all day if you have towith your mirror and your bracelet of song.)
Fact is, the invention of women under siegehas been to sharpen love in the service of myth.
If you can't be free, be a mystery.